Trinity Thirteen Sermon| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| September 10, 2006| Luke 10:23-37
On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings we are beginning a review of the Catechism. We started last week with a class about the Bible as a book. It is not enough to know that the Bible is the word of God. It is not enough to know that the Bible is true in everything it says. Unless we know why the Bible was written we will not be able to understand it correctly. The Bible was written to lead us to Christ. Christ lies concealed in the Old Testament. He is revealed in the New Testament. Everything that God has to say to us is fulfilled in Christ. Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God. You look at Him and you see your God. The Bible is the word of God not only because God gave the biblical writers the words to write, but also because the Word become flesh, the Child of Mary, Jesus Christ, is the topic of the Holy Scriptures from cover to cover. If we read the Bible and do not see Jesus revealed in its pages we are reading with blinders on.
Jesus said to His disciples as recorded for us at the beginning of today’s Gospel Lesson:
Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.
They saw God in the flesh. They heard His words of everlasting life. Prophets and kings had heard of His coming and longed to see Him and hear Him but they could not. The fulfillment of all of God’s promises to His people came when Jesus Christ was born into this world. This was the center of all history. God had come to visit His people. The Creator joined His creation. The One from whom all that is good comes and apart from whom no good can ever be done came down from heaven and became a man. And to this man a certain lawyer came and said, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
What shall I do? As if you can! How can a mortal man do anything to gain immortality? The man’s a lawyer, so he must be somewhat intelligent. Then why does he ask such a stupid question? Not only does he foolishly think that he can do something to gain eternal life, he presumes to speak of inheriting eternal life as a result of doing something. He asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” An inheritance is a gift. One does not earn or win an inheritance. It is up to the testator of the will to give to whom He chooses. So will He give eternal life? He’s standing right in front of you! Look at Him and see. Here is life eternal. Here is the source of your life. He can give you the treasures of heaven. He can bring life and immortality to light. But you don’t ask Him what He can give. No, you fool, you ask Him what you can do to inherit what He gives graciously to those who can do nothing.
But he won’t ask precisely because he is a fool. The man wants to do something to gain eternal life. So Jesus gives him something to do. He asks the lawyer what the law requires. The lawyer answers correctly. He says:
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.
Note that he puts first things first when he recites the law back to Jesus. He first says that you must love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. That comes first. He knows it. Then you must love your neighbor as yourself. That comes next. That is subordinate to what comes first. First you must love God above all things and it is only in doing so that you can love your neighbor. But listen to the lawyerly question the man asks: “And who is my neighbor?” He talks as if he’s already loved God as God demands. Clearly, he doesn’t know the first thing about the requirements of God’s law. But Jesus meets the man where he is and by answering his question teaches much more than the man had asked.
St. Luke informs us that the man was testing Jesus and attempting to justify himself. This is what made him a fool. You don’t put God to the test. You don’t put God on trial. You don’t try to show God wrong. That’s pure folly. But the grace of God is shown in this, that God comes to fools and brings them wisdom. St. Paul reminds Timothy that the Scriptures are able to make us wise to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. The story of the Good Samaritan shows us how this is so.
The surface meaning of the parable is plain enough to see. A man is beaten, robbed, and left half dead on the side of the road. Two very religious men, who would surely be regarded as righteous if anyone could be so regarded, see the man in his need. They both cross by on the other side of the road. They see a man who needs their help but they won’t help. Their religion is not a religion of love. Instead of interpreting the law of God in such a way as to show them how to love their neighbor in need, they interpret God’s law in such a way as to justify themselves as they refuse to help the helpless man. They try to justify themselves. They can’t see the obvious. The law doesn’t tell us how to help ourselves. It tells us how to help others.
But if you are bent on using to law to make yourself better you can be sure of one thing. You will not use the law to see how you can help your neighbor. And so nothing you do will be right. The law teaches us how to love. When we see this we see our obligation to our neighbor. More than that, when we see this we see our need for something more than the law. We learn that we have not loved God or our neighbor and we can never become righteous by means of anything that is in our power to do.
See who obeyed the law of love. He was a man that religious people despised. He was a Samaritan. No one would have expected a Samarian to be used as an example of how to love. And that was why Jesus had the priest and the Levite of his story fail in their religious duty while portraying the one who obeyed God’s law as a Samaritan. People are so easily impressed with titles. They are led this way and that by the religiously respectable. Jesus was teaching this self-righteous lawyer that if he’s looking for religious respectability he’s not going to find eternal life. He may get his reward in this life, but he’ll never find eternal life. That comes only from the One who was shamed and humiliated as a result of doing good.
You see, Jesus is the Good Samaritan. Despised by the self-righteous, but loved by poor and helpless sinners who lie on the side of the road, beaten, robbed, and half dead. We look to the law to help us, but he sneers at us and walks on by on the other side of the road. He can’t help us. He won’t help us. He’ll leave us helpless.
The lawyer who tested Jesus and tried to justify himself could not but fail in both efforts. God does not suffer Himself to be judged by us. Every time we try to do so we are left more foolish than when we began. And it is simply impossible for a sinner to make himself into a saint. Jesus wanted that annoying lawyer to see himself for what he was. Not only was he the priest and the Levite who saw a neighbor in need and did not do what love required, he was also the man lying half dead on the side of the road.
Jesus is the Good Samaritan. He sees us in our helplessness and He loves us. It is not just a pitying glance or a silent prayer that He offers us in our need. He comes to us where we are and does all that we need Him to do. His compassion is real. It isn’t for show. It isn’t a matter of checking off rules for doing this or that or the other good thing. It sees us in our need and does what our need requires doing. Jesus sees us in our sin and spiritual helplessness and applies the balm of His pure grace. He pours oil and wine on our wounds. By means of the washing of Holy Baptism He forgives us our sin and brings us out of death into life. By means of the Sacrament of the Altar He confirms to us the forgiveness of sins and sustains us in the true faith. These sacraments are not merely rituals to signify the love of an absent Savior. For the Savior Himself places us on his own animal. All that He has He gives to us. He pays whatever it costs. He refuses to let us pay a dime. His neighborly love doesn’t look to see what the neighbor can do in return. It looks to see what love requires Him to do. And He does what love requires. This is how we are delivered from every evil of body and soul. Jesus Christ, our Good Samaritan, suffers shame, contempt, and the sin of the whole human race. Why? Because by this suffering His compassion for us can meet its goal. He delivers us from the misery that the law inflicted on us. He does so by bearing the burden of the law’s judgment in our place. The priests and Levites despised Him even as He fulfilled the law they never even began to fulfill.
And so it is today and so it will be until the end of the world. Those who want to live a life of love must know that it is not a life of glory. Genuinely good needs are rarely praised by a world more interested in self-promotion and self-justification than in humble repentance. But in our helplessness the Good Samaritan picked us up off the road and gave us our lives back. Living under the forgiveness of sins that He alone provides, we can now use the law to benefit our neighbor in His need. We certainly don’t need it to benefit ourselves. Jesus has done that for us.